Milbank argues in Beyond Secular Order: The Representation of Being and the Representation of the People that “antiquity by and large knew of no ‘pure nature’, but already referred the natural to the supernatural, albeit this was too confined to intra-cosmic terms. Thus, as Eric Voegelin intimated, any notion (even those sometimes entertained by the high Middle Ages themselves) that Christian revelation simply ‘added’ the supernatural to a ‘nature’ known to the pagans is historically too simple.”

This has implications for the way modernity has used the concept of “nature”: “the ‘nature’ to which modern secularists appeal is a post-Christian phenomenon of dubious stature outside a Christian framework. For even if neo-scholastic theology falsely proclaimed the autonomy of a natural end, the self-contained coherence and the validity of this end still only made sense as something ordained by God.”

What this finally exposes is that modernity’s use of the concept of “nature” is already postmodern: “In purely secular terms there really can be no such regulated or self-regulating nature - only the randomness and contingency of matter and force. In this sense there is no ‘modern’ that one might care to defend, since it has always already been the ‘postmodern’ and always been prepared to accept, with Nietzsche, that without nature one might after all envisage matter as guided by a daddy supernatural, neo-pagan vitality” (6).

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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